Reduced beta-Adrenergic Sensitivity in Patients With Type 1 Diabetes and Hypoglycemia Unawareness

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE

We tested the hypothesis that impaired tissue sensitivity to catecholamines contributes to hypoglycemia unawareness in subjects with type 1 diabetes.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS

A total of 21 subjects with type 1 diabetes underwent a standardized insulin infusion protocol to produce a stepwise decrease in plasma glucose to 45-min plateaus of 4.3, 3.6, 3.0, and 2.3 mmol/l. Glycemic thresholds, maximum responses for adrenergic and neuroglycopenic symptoms, and counterregulatory hormones were determined. Patients were classified as hypoglycemia unaware if the initiation of adrenergic symptoms occurred at a plasma glucose level 2 SD below that of nondiabetic volunteers. beta-Adrenergic sensitivity was measured as the dose of isoproterenol required to produce an increment in heart rate of 25 beats per minute above baseline (I25) in resting subjects.

RESULTS

Subjects with type 1 diabetes and hypoglycemia unawareness experienced the onset of adrenergic symptoms at a lower plasma glucose level than did those with awareness (2.5 +/- 0.1 vs. 3.7 +/- 0.1 mmol/l, P < 0.001), whereas neuroglycopenic symptoms occurred at similar glucose levels (2.7 +/- 0.2 vs 2.8 +/- 0.1 mmol/l). The plasma glucose levels for counterregulatory hormone secretion (epinephrine 2.9 +/- 0.2 vs. 4.1 +/- 0.2 mmol/l; norepinephrine 2.7 +/- 0.1 vs. 3.2 +/- 0.2 mmol/l; cortisol 2.5 +/- 0.2 vs. 3.3 +/- 0.2 mmol/l, P < 0.01) were also lower in subjects with unawareness. The maximal epinephrine (1,954 +/- 486 vs. 5,332 +/- 1,059 pmol/l, P < 0.01), norepinephrine (0.73 +/- 0.14 vs. 1.47 +/- 0.21 nmol/l, P = 0.04), and cortisol (276 +/- 110 vs. 579 +/- 83 nmol/l, P < 0.01) responses were reduced in the unaware group. I25 was greater in unaware subjects than in subjects without unawareness (1.5 +/- 0.3 vs. 0.8 +/- 0.2 micro g), where I25 was not different from that of controls (0.8 +/- 0.2 micro g).

CONCLUSIONS

We conclude that subjects with type 1 diabetes and hypoglycemia unawareness have reduced beta-adrenergic sensitivity, which may contribute to their impaired adrenergic warning symptoms during hypoglycemia. Diabetes Care 21:1939-1943, 1998

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